Jim Harbaugh raves about Michigan quarterback Cade McNamara: 'He had a great spring'

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh raved about the progress quarterback Cade McNamara made during spring practice, said early enrollee freshman J.J. McCarthy moved into the backup role, and has some interesting plans for Dan Villari.

Harbaugh, speaking on the “In the Trenches” podcast with host Jon Jansen, shared his thoughts on Michigan's quarterback situation and the team after spring practice, which concluded April 10.

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh was the guest on Jon Jansen's "In the Trenches" podcast.

McNamara led Michigan to a comeback victory in triple overtime at Rutgers last season after replacing Joe Milton, then became the starting quarterback the next week against Penn State, the Wolverines’ final game before a COVID outbreak canceled their last three games. Joe Milton has since transferred to Tennessee. Former Texas Tech quarterback Alan Bowman is a graduate transfer to Michigan and is expected to participate in preseason camp.

Last season, McNamara was 43-of-71 for 425 yards and five touchdowns. He did not have an interception. Harbaugh described him as a “sponge for knowledge” and has worked well with new quarterbacks coach Matt Weiss.

“Not a lot of experience, but Cade just continues to play well,” Harbaugh said on the podcast. “Continual progress from Cade. He had a great spring. He took what he did last fall in games and continued to build on it on a daily basis. Very confident. Knows the system inside and out.”

McCarthy, an early enrollee who played his final year at IMG Academy, was the highest-rated player in the 2021 Michigan class.

“J.J. was terrific as a mid-year freshman,” Harbaugh said.

Villari, a redshirt freshman, did not play last season. Harbaugh said they’re looking at Villari in “multiple ways” suggesting a similar role to that of former BYU quarterback Taysom Hill.

 “We’re going to try and do some things like that with Dan Villari as a quarterback/athlete, who can really help our team,” Harbaugh said. “I think we can do it. There’s a lot I like about Dan Villari.”

As far as the offensive line, Ryan Hayes, Zak Zinter, Andrew Stueber are “three solid starters” Harbaugh said, adding that early enrollee freshman Greg Crippen, a center, has moved into the No. 2 spot.

Running backs Hassan Haskins and Blake Corum have set themselves apart, he said, but freshman Donovan Edwards turned heads this spring.

“They’re two tremendous players, and that’s where the bulks of the carries are going to go,” Harbaugh said of Haskins and Corum. “We’re going to lean heavily on those two players. Donovan Edwards, he’s come in as a mid-year and he’ll play. He’ll play a lot. He can do just about anything, be a home-run hitter. And he catches the ball really well out of the backfield.

“He played in the state championship game (for West Bloomfield) in January and he had a cast on and then started spring ball, same cast on the thumb, and lo and behold, you look up and he’s catching seven balls in practice and he’s doing that with a cast on his hand. He’s got some real talent. Tavi(erre) Dunlap is another mid-year freshman. Bigger back. Has an opportunity to be a real thumper.”

Harbaugh singled out Mike Sainristil, Cornelius Johnson, and Ronnie Bell has their “top three” guys at receiver. Roman Wilson was slowed in the spring by a soft-tissue injury, but they anticipate he will be a major contributor in the fall. A.J. Henning is working at slot receiver, but also as a potential punt and kick returner, Harbaugh said. He also mentioned early enrollee freshmen Andrel Anthony and Cristian Dixon as having strong spring practices.

The defensive staff was shaken up in the offseason and Mike Macdonald is now in his first season as defensive coordinator. While Macdonald hasn’t been specific about what to expect from the defense from the fall, there will be some significant changes.

“We’ve got good players on defense, and you see it gelling and coming together where players are doing some different roles based on the scheme, defensive ends are now stand-up outside backers,” Harbaugh said. “It fits them. I think they’re excited about it and learning those new positions. They’re fitting the players to the scheme and other talents are going to be used. It’s a process, it’s a daily thing, but I see us being pretty darn good on defense.”

Harbaugh said he sees the defense becoming "stouter" in the interior and pointed to Donovan Jeter as a starter and described Mazi Smith as "ascending." He also mentioned Chris Hinton, Julius Welschof, Kris Jenkins, Jess Speight, and Joey George as having strong showings in the spring.

"That interior defensive line is really coming along," he said.

Returning starter Aidan Hutchinson, recovered from ankle surgery to repair an injury last season, did not participate in any scrimmages this spring.

“Physically, (one of the) three top-rated guys on the team across all the key performance indicators,” Harbaugh said. “He has come back training at the highest level, all in, wants to be great.”

At linebacker, Harbaugh singled out Josh Ross and Mike Barrett and said Nikhai Hill-Green, Kalel Mullings and Junior Colson are "good young linebackers". Gemon Green, he said, seems poised to start at one cornerback spot, while Vincent Gray and D.J. Turner are competing for the other. Dax Hill and Brad Hawkins should be the starting safeties.

Here are a few other highlights from his podcast interview:

On the recently passed one-time transfer rule: “I’m still a proponent of players families making the decision that they think is best for them. I still support that.”

On his philosophy regarding the transfer portal: “Looking at it. Looking at it every day. We’ve contacted several. I don’t know, we’ll see. We’re lookin’, we’re lookin’. That’s an on-going process. We’re looking, that’s our philosophy.”

On the addition of director of player personnel Courtney Morgan: “Wealth of experience is what he brings. He’s bringing good, fresh perspective. He’s got a great focus. Knows what he’s doing. Been a lot of value added there.”

achengelis@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @chengelis